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Clooney calls on Australia to adopt new laws in the name of press freedom

Her joint submission with former president of the British Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger, said Australia’s “timely consideration” of such laws was critical in stopping human rights abuses across the world.

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“We believe that sanctions are a valuable enforcement tool for the protection of human rights and that it is time to use this tool to better protect journalists and free speech around the world,” they say.

“So Australia has an important opportunity to lead with a new paradigm: that where human rights are under attack, targeted sanctions will be a counterattack.”

The United States passed the Magnitsky Act in 2012 which was initially designed to sanction Russian officials involved in the prison death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Moscow lawyer investigating a sweeping tax fraud.

Instead of broadly targeting an entire country, the sanctions target only select members of a regime, preventing them from travelling and from accessing bank accounts in Canada or the US.

Canada, which along with fellow Five Eyes nation Britain has since passed similar laws, has sanctioned people in the Russian and Venezuelan government and sanctioned 17 people in Saudi Arabia in connection to the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

American-born British financier and political activist Bill Browder, who was influential in the US adopting the laws, said in his submission Australia was at risk of becoming a “magnet for dirty money” from abusers and urged the adoption of the new laws.

Labor senator Kimberley Kitching, who is among a bipartisan group of MPs championing such laws, said Mr Browder was due to give evidence to the committee in person, but the COVID-19 pandemic had made it impossible.

She said he would give evidence by video conference and would hopefully be joined by Ms Clooney, Australian barrister Geoffrey Robertson and former Canadian attorney-general Irwin Cotler who had advocated for Magnitsky-style laws around the world.

“I have been in very regular contact with Bill Browder – the champion of Global Magnitsky laws. It is a privilege to be able to discuss these advocates’ experiences in helping to pass these laws around the globe,” Senator Kitching said.

The inquiry is one of a handful Federal Parliament has continued despite the spread of COVID-19 which all but shut down Canberra’s Parliament House amid concerns around social distancing rules.

Veteran MP Kevin Andrews, chair of the human rights sub-committee of the joint standing committee on foreign affairs, defence and trade said it was important that the Australian government “continues its work in these difficult times”.

“This is important work and we will be pressing on to deliver a report this year,” he said.

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